DRAMATIZES TECHNIQUES FOR OFFICE WORKERS IN MEETING & WORKING WITH PERSONS OUTSIDE THE COMPANY, FACE TO FACE & OVER THE PHONE. STRESSES COURTESY. SECRETARY DISCOVERING HOW TO MAKE HER JOB MORE ENJOYABLE.
Ken Smith sez: A "bad" receptionist learns from her "good" receptionist roommate how improving her attitude can make her job more enjoyable. In a dream sequence the "bad" receptionist is stuck in a hellish office with an equally bad receptionist behind the desk -- herself!!! The bad girl reforms and becomes lovely and happy.
Offices have the reputation of being clean, placid environments, and for most of us office work seems preferable to labor in factories, kitchens, or parking lots. At the same time, there's a downside: offices are also a perfect breeding ground for abnormal psychology.
White-collar work has always been associated with a strong emphasis on manners, conduct, etiquette, and propriety. Perhaps this relates to its mystique as a more genteel alternative to the factory, or maybe the perceived need to regulate the behavior of large numbers of lower-paid women. But the focus on "doing the right thing" that permeates almost all office training films renders them key artifacts of social control. Historically, the office has been the place where young workers (primarily women) have been socialized and taught appropriate behavior, which in America equals training in "middle-classness" (for a related perspective, see Social Class in America on this disc).
Films like Office Courtesy, Office Etiquette, Duties of a Secretary, Take a Letter From A to Z and I Want to Be a Secretary position the office as a place where young workers (mostly women) are socialized and taught appropriate behavior, and where social hierarchies learned elsewhere are reinforced. Office Courtesy depicts social control as a covert process, a disturbing vision of how manipulation occurs through etiquette, masked by empathy, courtesy and smiles.
As the expressionistic montage of angry men at its beginning makes clear, Office Courtesy is very much about instructing women on how to behave courteously towards their male superiors. Many kinds of behavior need to be learned: subordination to visitors, customers and supervisors; repression of emotions, positive transference and projection ("people behave to you as you do to them, and if you are nice to people they will usually be nice to you too"). In white-collar culture, these threads run deep. Many typewriting textbooks published during this period contain practice exercises which are catechistic statements on proper conduct and etiquette.
Office Courtesy also covertly instructs women in the "office wife" syndrome. The office wife (see supplemental sections for this film) is the judicious, undemanding, unemotional, well-behaved secretary/spouse, always ready to anticipate the boss's needs. In her head resides a whole psychology of institutionalized service and inferiority. While the housewife is surrounded by children and appliances, the office wife spends the day surrounded by paper and mechanical devices.
Like so many other educational films, Office Etiquette utilizes the well-worn "Goofus and Gallant" strategy. Here, Goofus is Barbara, a troubled woman who wants to quit her job because she can't easily handle meeting people, and Gallant is Ruth, considerably more centered than Barbara. Ruth, who is played by the same actor that plays the wife in The Best Made Plans (see the Tireless Marketers disc) says: "Why, meeting people is the thing I like most about my job. I think it's fun having new people come into the office all the time." Ruth tries to teach Barbara about projection Ñ that people behave to you as you do to them, and that if you're nice to people they'll usually be nice to you too Ñ but it takes a nightmare to turn Barbara's mind around.
How many of us have had nightmares about the office? They're a fixture in office training films, too. Barbara's takes place in "Mr. Franklin's office," and is filled with expressionistic details: tapping feet, ominous music, people waiting in vain for their appointments, insistently ringing phones, frustration and anger, a snippy secretary, and finally a confrontation with her double. The dream restores Barbara's lost appetite for dinner and with it, her optimism. "In the days that followed," says the narrator, "Barbara did her best to acquire a genuine interest in people. Where she found that smiles are effective only when they're genuine." She becomes a more functional accessory for her boss, and learns important lessons: how to turn away a plaintive visitor "firmly, without making an enemy of him" and not to chew gum in the office. The story ends on a positive note. "...Because of her changed attitude, the duties which had once been a nightmare for her, became instead the pleasant and exciting experience of meeting the public." Barbara has come of age as a good office wife.
WORK LABOR WORKERS SECRETARIES OFFICES TELEPHONES COURTESY ETIQUETTE